Women’s Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti

Women’s Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti
by Sokari Ekine
originally published at Pambazuka News and Black Looks; republished with permission

Students at SOPUDEP school; photo by Sokari Ekine

Thousands of words have been written about Haiti in the past 12 months, covering everything from the NGOisation of the country, the politics of humanitarian aid, endless questions and discussion on what happened to the millions of dollars donated by individuals and countries, the horrendous conditions in the camps where some 1.2 million IDPs (internally displaced persons) are forced to live, and in particular, women and children, hundreds of whom have been raped, trafficked to the Dominican Republic and forced into prostitution to survive. In addition to the earthquake, Haitians have had to live through another devastating hurricane and now cholera, which as of today [Dec 9, 2010] has affected 30,000 people. And to add to the frustration and anger, we can add an election, which by all independent accounts was fraudulent and farcical. As I write, protests calling for the annulment of the elections are planned this afternoon. If one is to judge from the many radio phone-ins, people are angry and concerned that the much-hated René Préval will announce his preferred candidate, Jude Celestine, as the new leader, despite the fact that so far the majority of votes appear to be for ‘Micky’ Matterly and Madam Manigat – but all of this can change in a moment.

One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organising for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organising and movement building. This is one woman’s story of how she, her family and the people in the various communities in which she works came together collectively to care for each other’s needs and how that struggle has become the foundation of a new movement of the poor for change in education and the material lives of women and men – a struggle for dignity. Their personal and collective humanitarian response was completely off the radar of NGOs, international institutions and the Haitian government. Even Save the Children, whose office is located right next to the school, did nothing to help SOPUDEP. However, ultimately this was an aside for Rea. What was important was that those who needed help of whatever kind received it and, beyond that, the struggle for dignity and self-determination for the poor people of Haiti.

A mere five minutes passed between the death of one of the schoolteachers and the life given to Rea and her teenage daughter – one of three children.

I was in the school when it happened and I cannot describe the horror around me. The school was empty and did not fall, but the neighbourhood collapsed. Five people were crushed to death just meters from me when one of the outer walls of the school grounds collapsed. My first responsibility was to my family, so I had to get home, but the streets were chaotic. People were panicking and screaming. I had to run home ten kilometers through those streets to find my family. The phones weren’t working. It was horrible.’

Once it was established that Rea’s family were all safe – a house just five minutes walk from Rea’s own home collapsed – she set about caring for the many in her community and whereever she was needed. Everyone was in shock, but there was no time to think about what had happened as people were injured. Many people – students, families knowing about her community work – flocked to Rea’s home and at one point there were some 60 people in her home. People feared to sleep indoors so they removed all the mattresses, blankets, pillows – whatever they could find – and spread them outside. It was January and freezing cold during the night but anything was preferable to being inside. Rea said it took her months before she stopped waking up with nightmares of being crushed. Even now one wakes up and gives thanks that you made it through the night. I too find myself staring at the ceiling every night and wondering which part would collapse first and how I would get out.

A student at SOPUDEP who was buried under rubble for two days after the earthquake; photo by Sokari Ekine

The first day after the quake, Rea went to the shop were she usually bought the school supplies and asked if they would give her credit as she needed to buy food. They told her to take whatever she needed and not to worry. As much food as possible was collected and everyone in the house – the children, students, guests and neighbours – set about making food packs. They worked all night making the packs, which they then distributed to anyone on the streets during the day. As donations from friends of SOPUDEP and organisations such as the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF), the Haiti Action Committee, Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF) began to arrive, Rea was able to buy more food and medical supplies and continue the distribution. Food which was only being given to women and mostly bags of rice were available for those prepared to queue for up to 4 hours. Rea said she did not have the time to queue for 25lbs of rice and preferred to go and buy it with whatever money she had to hand. Besides, fights often broke out with people tired and hungry and everyone trying to push their way forward. The military would then beat the women and children. In total, food and water were distributed to 31 centres by Rea’s team.

Women collecting supplies; photo by Rea Dol

In addition to financial donations, SOPUDEP received a lot of medical supplies, which were taken to the various mobile clinics which had been set up in camps and other locations. Though the number of recipients decreased over time, the food collection and distribution lasted for three months. At a point in time Rea realised this dependency created out of a crisis could not continue. They would forever be in a state of oppression and remain in the clutches of NGOs, beggars in their own land.

No one ever knew when money would arrive, which meant any kind of systematic planning was impossible. It was like waiting for the tooth fairy to arrive and besides what humanitarian aid was being distributed was not reaching Rea’s community. It was all too ad hoc to be sustainable.

The next money she received was a sum of US$3,000, and she began to think of another way. Instead of buying food she would deposit the money in the bank and start a small micro-credit saving programme. It took courage and was a huge risk because people were hungry, but, determined to create some degree of sustainability and stability, in a moment she made up her mind. A meeting was called and the idea put to the 21 women with whom she had been working over the past months, and though there were doubts they trusted Rea. The micro-credit scheme Fanm SOPUDEP AN AKSYON (SOPUDEP Women in Action) began with US$3,000 and 21 women.

I was surprised when I heard Rea had started a micro-credit scheme as there were so many negative reports on such schemes, which rather than enhance and empower women end up impoverishing them even more. So I was interested to find out more about the SOPUDEP scheme, whether it was working and why it worked and I will write about this later after meeting with the various women’s group.

Rea’s philosophy is that each individual has to take responsibility for themselves and the notion of something for free is neither healthy nor sustainable. Both the school and the women’s project are framed within the idea of personal and collective responsibility. Education in Haiti must be available for all and everyone encouraged to attend, and no one is turned away from SOPUDEP because they cannot pay. However, everyone is asked to try to contribute something when they can, even if it is 5 gouds or helping in the school somehow (US$1 equals approximately 40 gouds). The school operates two sessions – the main one in the morning and an afternoon session for those who have never attended schools, both older children and adults.

The elections are a distraction. Leaders have the power to bring change but no one believes any leader will do anything for the poor. Everyone I asked about Jean-Bertrand Aristide wanted him back because they believed he was one leader who could change their lives for the better. Right now the only way is for communities to reach out to each other and create alliances, which is what SOPUDEP is beginning to do. Rea’s vision is one I share. We cannot fix Haiti, but we can fix our community and help others fix theirs. Eventually as all these communities build alliances among themselves, they will become strong and then maybe begin to fix Haiti.

Since the earthquake there has been an increase in the awareness that communities have to help each other and work together. People are not only more determined to improve their lives and that of their community; they truly believe it is possible. Two more schools for the poor have come under the umbrella of SOPUDEP – one in Bobin with 250 students, children and adults, and one in Boucan Lapli with about 60 children. The main school, which started in 2002 with 182 children from Petion-Ville, presently has 486 students.

Rea Dol and SOPUDEP student; photo by Sokari Ekine

I have spent two days at the school with the freedom to roam. I came across a class whose teacher was absent and I ended up teaching English for 45 minutes followed by the students giving me a lesson in Kreyol. Now I have been asked by them to teach the same class for the next couple of weeks till they break up for holidays. The school is truly like family. Since the micro-credit scheme, parents and school staff have all been encouraged to open savings accounts. The children are continuously greeting and kissing Madam Rea. Her office, which she shares with the accountant and office manager Billy Bataille, is a constant hive of activity with women coming to deposit their repayments, students wanting things fixed or asking advice from Madam Rea or Billy. Outside the office, women clean beans and rice in preparation for tomorrow’s food – the door is always open. Yesterday Rea opened a suitcase of books she had bought with donations from a partner school in the US. She now has some 15,000 books (mostly in French, so more Kreyol and English books are needed), which have to be indexed and will form the school library. A volunteer teacher from the US has promised to take on the task.

SOPUDEP nevertheless faces many challenges. The building survived the earthquake but remains in disrepair. All the external walls of the compound collapsed, along with most of the surrounding buildings, with the exception of the Save the Children building. The building housing the school dates back to the Duvallier days and was always structurally superior to others in the neighbourhood. All the classrooms are open to the elements as there are no windows. There is no water and since the earthquake, no electricity. Recently a group of NGOs met to discuss how to control the spread of cholera within the country’s 22,000 schools. The idea is to hold training sessions for district heads and some school directors on precautions to take. Many schools are already doing this, but a more coordinated effort would improve the situation. However, as Rea pointed out, we can do all we can in the schools but what happens when the children return to their homes where they are reliant on standpipes and no sanitary facilities? The majority of people are unemployed, yet there are masses of rubbish and rubble to clear – the solution seems quite simple really.

 

photo by Sokari Ekine

Through donations, SOPUDEP has purchased a piece of land in Delmas 83 and has so far managed to build the fencing wall. It will take six months to build but all that depends on how quickly they can raise the money needed to complete the project. I find it sad that an organisation like SOPUDEP, which is real and which has a history, has to rely on small donations from international friends and parents to survive. If they are not deserving of more sustained support then I wonder who is.

Sokari Ekine is the author of the award-winning Black Looks blog.

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Dispatches from Haitian Women’s Organizing & Survival

In an article entitled “One Year and One Day,” Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat reflects on the first anniversary of the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti,

By this interpretation of death, one of many in Haiti, more than two hundred thousand souls went anba dlo—under the water—after the earthquake last January 12th. Their bodies, however, were elsewhere. Many were never removed from the rubble of their homes, schools, offices, churches, or beauty parlors. Many were picked up by earthmovers on roadsides and dumped into mass graves. Many were burned, like kindling, in bonfires, for fear that they might infect the living.

“In Haiti, people never really die,” my grandmothers said when I was a child, which seemed strange, because in Haiti people were always dying. They died in disasters both natural and man-made. They died from political violence. They died of infections that would have been easily treated elsewhere. They even died of chagrin, of broken hearts. But what I didn’t fully understand was that in Haiti people’s spirits never really die. This has been proved true in the stories we have seen and read during the past year, of boundless suffering endured with grace and dignity: mothers have spent nights standing knee-deep in mud, cradling their babies in their arms, while rain pounded the tarpaulin above their heads; amputees have learned to walk, and even dance, on their new prostheses within hours of getting them; rape victims have created organizations to protect other rape victims; people have tried, in any way they could, to reclaim a shadow of their past lives.

Below are articles from the past year about Haitian women’s organizing for safety and justice after the earthquake:

Rape in the Camps: Lacking Security, Women Organize to Protect Themselves, Amy Goodman interviews Malia Villard Appolon, coordinator of KOFAVIV, Democracy Now

That’s a camp which has a lot of difficulties in it. The government doesn’t take any measures to provide security there. That’s why we saw a lot of problems of security there, because there’s no police presence. It’s us, as civilians in the camp, who took the initiative to put in place a committee of protection to protect the women against the sexual violence they were under, experiencing.

Haiti Women Regroup, Rebuild, by Rebecca Harshbarger, Women’s E-News

A loose-knit coalition of 106 organizations called Femmes Citoyennes Haiti Solidaire, or Women Citizens Haiti United, has emerged from the devastation of the January earthquake to lobby for women’s advancement during the recovery efforts.Part of their inspiration comes from wanting to carry on for three leaders lost in the disaster [Magalie Marcelin opened Haiti's first shelter for battered women; Myriam Merlet, chief of staff for Haiti's Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women, and Anne Marie Coriolan, who worked in the courts to criminalize rape]…

Souerette Policar Montjoie is president of Lig Pouva Fanm, a women’s leadership organization in Port-au-Prince that joined the coalition.

“We have a lot of things to say and Haitian women are very strong,” she told Women’s eNews in a phone interview. “But in Haiti, the position of men is higher than women. We want men to know that we can put our hands together. They don’t have to fight us.”

Women Citizens Haiti United members range from a collective of female university students to a network of women working in rural community organizations. Members represent an array of special projects: curbing domestic and sexual violence, as well as improving women’s access to credit, job training and education.

Haitian Women: Pillars of the Economy & Resistance, by Masum Momaya, AWID

Historically, many women were employed in Haiti’s factories or worked as farmers. Yet recent shifts have caused women to take up work in the already crowded informal sector. Many are self-employed – owning home-based stores selling small wares and clothing, cooking food to sell on the streets or working as domestic servants. Some also work in the sex industry. [1]

The small percentage of women who still work in garment factories face exploitative working conditions, but they have been mobilizing for labor rights and national policy reform to keep factories open while paying living wages and ensuring fair working conditions.

Additionally, Haitian women and their allies both inside and outside Haiti have been fighting for debt cancellation. In June 2009, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank cancelled a significant portion – $1.2 billion – of Haiti’s debt. Other creditors, including the Canadian government, have followed suit. Now, campaigns are focused on boosting national industry and production.

Meanwhile, NGOs such as Dwa Famn, Fonkoze, the Lambi Fund and Partners in Health support women with counseling, basic education, skills-training, loans and health care, including women who have survived domestic or other forms of violence. These and other civil-society organizations employ a community-based approach and support women’s leadership development, such that women determine their own needs and gain skills to lead efforts for change.

Additionally, women continue to share and raise awareness about Haiti’s history and contemporary life locally and transnationally as artists, musicians and writers. Many draw and paint scenes of current-day joys and sorrows while others invoke words and songs dating back to slave rebellions. These expressions serve as reminders of the strength of ancestors and past struggles as well as the power of art in communicating across borders. [2]

Haitian feminist journalist Mirlene Joanis, who is interviewed in the Poto Mitan film, writes “When you see how Haitians are slaving away in the streets, it reminds you of an epoch a long time ago when our ancestors were slaves. In those days, it was only human force that made the country rich.” Today, such a tradition continues, in which women make the country ‘rich’ – not only through their economic contributions but also through their continuation of the resistance and push for reform that has characterized Haiti since its founding.

Women’s movement building and creating community in Haiti, Sokari Ekine, blacklooks.org

One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organising for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organising and movement building.   This is one woman’s story of how she, her family and the people in the various communities in which she works, came together collectively to care for each other’s needs and how that struggle has become the foundation of a new movement  of the poor for  change in education and the material lives of women and men – a struggle for dignity.   Their personal and collective humanitarian response was completely off the radar of NGOs, international institutions and the Haitian government.  Even Save The Children, whose office is located right next to the school did nothing to help SOPUDEP.      However ultimately this was an aside for Rea.   What was important was that those who needed help of whatever kind, received it and beyond that the struggle for dignity and self-determination for the poor people of Haiti.

Post-Earthquake: “Hearing Our Mothers: Safeguarding Haitian Women’s Self-Representation & Practices of Survival,” Dr. Myriam J. A. Chancy

If you know of other news reports, video/audio, blog entries, or first hand accounts about women’s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans community organizing in Haiti, please put the link in comments.

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Palestine, Haiti, and the Politics of Aid: “Disaster Relief” vs Sustainability & Self-Determination

Palestine, Haiti, and the Politics of Aid:
“Disaster Relief” vs Sustainability & Self-Determination

By Nada Elia, Shana griffin, and Alisa Bierria, with INCITE! Women Color Against Violence

(A version of this article will be printed in the Apr/June ’10 issue of Left Turn Magazine.  We are releasing in recognition of Global Boycott, Divestment, Sanction Day.)

On January 12th, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people, injuring over 300,000, and effectively destroying the capital city of Port-Au-Prince and its surrounding towns and cities, while displacing and rendering homeless nearly 1.5 million people. Almost immediately, international aid and charity organizations, individuals, faith-based and community groups, and national governments mobilized food, medicine, clothes, services, and money.

Less than a week later, on January 17th, Palestinians commemorated the one-year anniversary of the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 22-day military assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, a third of whom were children, and rendered 20,000 homeless. Even prior to that assault, the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are refugees expelled from their homes in 1948, had been weakened, impoverished, and starved for eighteen months, resulting in conditions described as “a prelude to genocide” by United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Richard Falk. A year later, Gaza remains besieged and in crisis, and the Israeli state continues to block humanitarian relief aid from reaching devastated Palestinian communities.

Why the different responses to the two catastrophes? This phenomenon may be explained by the apparent differences between the two: one is human-induced, a political, military assault to control and dispossess a criminalized people, while the other is considered a natural geological phenomenon, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which could have happened anywhere. However, in both cases, aid is closely controlled based on each location’s particular experience of disenfranchisement and marginalization. The ongoing consequences of disaster, whether or not the people are deemed worthy of disaster aid, and the conditions that are put on aid distribution are all shaped by pre-existing relations of control, regulation, exploitation, and vulnerability.

Activists, NGOs, and some governmental agencies have been trying to get desperately-needed humanitarian aid to Gaza for years. The Viva Palestina convoys and Gaza Freedom March of December 2009-January 2010 are only the most recent and widely publicized examples. Because so much of the infrastructure has been shattered by the siege and repeated Israeli assaults, most places in Gaza have no electricity, no running water, and no materials to rebuild destroyed homes and facilities.

Seriously aggravating an already dire situation, Operation Cast Lead eliminated nearly half of the hospitals and health care facilities in Gaza, putting the entire population of Palestinians in Gaza at severe health risk. UNICEF reports that the blockade has resulted in the severe malnutrition of thousands of children in Gaza.  Although the UN and activists across the globe have denounced Israel’s criminal blockade, Israeli forces continue to engage in the collective punishment of Gaza’s refugee population in order to weaken the democratically elected Hamas. Aid, or more correctly its withholding, is clearly utilized as a powerful political tool that can be wielded in any way an outside power sees fit.

Preemptive criminalization

In contrast, Haiti has seen an outpouring of aid from all over the globe, complete with celebrity telethons and a special appeal from First Lady Michelle Obama. But what kinds of strings are attached to the aid pouring into post-earthquake Haiti? Underneath the superficial differences are similar military and political forces at play in both countries. While the Israeli state, with the explicit backing of the US, effectively blocks aid to Gaza, the US is engaging in the militarization of disaster aid and is deploying what Kenyan writer and activist Shailja Patel identifies as “preemptive criminalization of disaster victims.”

The militarization of aid to Haiti includes installing heavily armed US forces for recovery efforts based on the practices of military conflict and violence, effectively deciding what aid will enter Haiti, how that aid will be distributed, who is deserving of help, what security threat Haitians represent to US borders, and where survivors will be re-located (Guantanamo Bay) if, as one US Navy Rear Admiral put it, “Haitians leave their homeland and are captured at sea.”

And just as Operation Cast Lead aggravated decades of Palestinian dispossession, the unimaginable suffering and challenges the people of Haiti are experiencing due to the devastating earthquake are a clear example of a disaster made worse by years of deep seated racism, militarization, and neoliberal conditionality policies of development. As a consequence of the 1804 Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave revolt in history, the Haitian people were forced to pay reparations to France for their success in overthrowing their colonial ruler, thus subverting Haiti’s sovereignty, bankrupting the newly formed republic, and creating its cycle of debt dependency.

The refusal of the US and Western European countries to recognize Haiti as a sovereign nation in the 1800s, the economic manipulation by foreign governments and international financing agencies, and the eventual US occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, have aided in uneven development patterns, poverty, violence, and dictatorships that have plagued the country for centuries. Additionally, the US-backed neoliberal economic exploitation of Haiti by the IMF and World Bank under the Clinton Administration during the 1990s, as well as the US-supported 2004 coup, which undermined Haitian democracy under the Bush Administration, have exacerbated poverty, unsustainable development, labor exploitation, corruption, and other intersecting forms of gender and class-based violence in Haiti.

Undesirable communities

Aid is often used as a tool of control and manipulation on a macro-scale, as a result of geo-political and economic dominance, war, occupation, and catastrophic natural events. It is also seen at micro-levels, when governments and international agencies determine what kind of aid is offered, who receives it and under what conditions, and who is most vulnerable to having resources taken away and/or withheld. These dynamics are revealed when we examine the experiences of those who are not deemed aid-worthy; most notably, incarcerated persons, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people, people with disabilities, sex workers, communities representing a “demographic threat,” and those perceived as a burden on the state. Just as these communities were viewed as “undesirable” prior to a disaster, they continue to be marginalized after a catastrophe, when criminalization and withheld resources have exponentially greater consequences.

Pre-existing racialized gender inequality and vulnerability during times of emergencies often become disasters onto themselves, resulting in punitive policies and practices of sexual violence, reproductive violence, and population control that criminalize the bodies of those experiencing the devastation. Examples of reproductive/population violence include the practice of kidnapping and trafficking Haitian children for the purposes of giving them to “better” parents in the US, and the recent genocidal calls by Harvard fellow Martin Kramer to prevent Palestinian births, which he argues creates “superfluous young men.” Poverty, economic instability, and climate change are then blamed on these bodies, always-already perceived as “over-populating.” Instead of prioritizing the provision of immediate humanitarian aid, family reunification, reproductive self-determination, and human rights protection, punitive policies are then enforced through the use of armed forces, neoliberal economic mandates, eugenic family planning policies, controlled corporate development, and human rights violations.

Sustainability & Self-Determination

Because international aid generally results in an exacerbation of pre-existing inequalities, further dispossessing those who had already been pushed to society’s margins, it is critical for those of us wishing to help to examine the politics and practices of international aid agencies, who are often myopic to the constraints of individuals within these communities. We must keep in mind that genuine solidarity requires that we educate ourselves about the socio-political circumstances on the ground as perceived, lived, and analyzed by those who need it most. These circumstances, this organic experience, will differ from the image presented to us by international groups and agencies which, through funding or ideology, often aggravate the oppressive dynamics amongst those we seek to support. Our guidance must come from those who have experienced the catastrophe, and will endure its long-term consequences. Whether in Haiti or Palestine, as indeed in every part of the world, grassroots organizations are already active on the ground, whose leadership and experience we must heed, if we are to be respectful of these communities’ self-determination.

In Palestine, close to 200 civilian groups representing a broad majority of the Palestinian population living under Israeli apartheid as well as in the Diaspora, issued a call for a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to end the apartheid. That call first came out in 2005, and the Palestinian civilian leadership has repeatedly asked that supporters engage in BDS as a form of non-violent resistance. Therefore, solidarity with Palestine requires that we endorse and follow the Palestinian call for BDS. This, rather than more symbolic attempts at delivering aid, is what Palestinians need to end the apartheid, which is the cause of the humanitarian crisis.

In Haiti, we must look to local grassroots groups that are steeped in the country’s knowledge and experience who are defining the kind of support that Haiti needs. The statement jointly issued by the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence begins to outline how US-based groups and individuals can assist grassroots recovery in Haiti and includes suggestions such as donating to local Haitian organizations engaged in gender justice work, convening popular education opportunities to learn more about Haiti’s powerful political history, and mobilizing for the end of US militarization and economic exploitation of Haiti.

Immediate aid relief and rescue operations are critical for the survival of a devastated community. However, if aid does not support the long-term sustainability and sovereignty of a people, the consequences of that aid itself could be as catastrophic as the military or natural disaster that befell them.

***

For more info about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign to Support Palestine, please visit:
http://www.bsdmovement.net/
http://usacbi.org/

Nada Elia is a third-generation refugee from Jerusalem, Palestine. She serves on the Organizing Committee of the US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and co-chairs INCITE!’s Anti-Militarism and Anti-Occupation Collective. A scholar-activist, Nada is core faculty at Antioch University in Seattle, WA.

Shana griffin is a black feminist, mother of a 16 year-old, social justice activist, and researcher based in New Orleans. Shana is co-founder of the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative, an INCITE! affiliate, where she currently serves as Research and Advocacy Director. Her current research examines the intersections of gender, disasters, displacement, and reproductive violence in the lives and on the bodies of women of color.

Alisa Bierria is a black feminist activist who works with INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative. She also works on her dissertation which proposes a framework to describe agency as it exists in the context of oppression.

INCITE! is a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue, and grassroots organizing.

To connect with INCITE!’s transnational work with Haiti, please contact us at incite.natl@gmail.com

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Adoptees of Color Issue Statement on Transnational Adoptions of Haitian Children

Children wait in line for medical care. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. UN Photo/Marco Dormino, used via Creative Commons

Earlier this year, 10 US Baptist missionaries faced kidnapping charges in Haiti, after taking 33 children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic.  Their explanation that they were trying to rescue Haitian children orphaned as a result of the January 13th earthquake was called into question when it was found that some of the children had existing parents.

The New York Times recently reported that the children have since been reunited with their families:

The 33 Haitian children taken from their earthquake-damaged homes by American church members in January were reunited with their biological families on Wednesday, officials said. The children, who ranged in age from 4 months to 12 years, were cared for at the SOS Children’s Village in the capital, Port-au-Prince, while social workers investigated their backgrounds. Nine of the 10 Americans arrested by the Haitian authorities while trying to take the children to the Dominican Republic were later released. The leader, Laura Silsby, remains in custody.

On January 25th, the Adoptees of Color Roundtable released a statement on transnational adoption of Haitian children.  They write:

We uphold that Haitian children have a right to a family and a history that is their own and that Haitians themselves have a right to determine what happens to their own children. We resist the racist, colonialist mentality that positions the Western nuclear family as superior to other conceptions of family, and we seek to challenge those who abuse the phrase “Every child deserves a family”  to rethink how this phrase is used to justify the removal of children from Haiti for the fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Western and Northern desire for ownership of Haitian children directly contributes to the destruction of existing family and community structures in Haiti. This individualistic desire is supported by the historical and global anti-African sentiment which negates the validity of black mothers and fathers and condones the separation of black children from their families, cultures, and countries of origin.

Full statement is here.  Also, the blog Outlandish Remarks: a queer korean adoptee talks back, responds to the question of how non-Haitian people can support families and children in Haiti in lieu of adoption:

My common sense response would be for those adopters to take the money they would be using to buy a Haitian child and give it to organizations working within the child’s community to provide relief and to eventually rebuild the infrastructure of that community so the child can remain in its care.

This full post is here.

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Haiti: Responding to the Situation

January 20, 2010

It has been a week since we all learned of the devastating situation unfolding in Haiti, as thousands struggle to survive and await rescue and humanitarian assistance.  INCITE! organizers and human rights activists around the world are mobilizing donations, organizing volunteer relief efforts, and collecting supplies to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Haiti.

As these important efforts are underway, we recommend that we also pause and ask the question: How can we intentionally support the long term sustainability and self determination of the Haitian people? When crises of this magnitude occur, we all understandably want to act quickly, but we must also figure out how to act thoughtfully in our efforts to develop a comprehensive, sustainable, and accountable transnational radical feminist response.

The event of an earthquake of this magnitude can be catastrophic for any place. But in Haiti, it also exacerbates decades of poverty, aid dependency, military dictatorship, unsustainable development, invasions, neoliberal structural adjustment policies, corruption, and many other intersecting forms of violence.  These political realities increase the multiple and complex forms of marginalization and social vulnerability women and their families will continue to face in the days, months, and years to come.

We have been in communication with Zeina Zaatari and Erika Rosas from Global Fund for Women.  Their contact from the Dominican Republic, Sergia Galvan, who is currently in Port-au-Prince, reported last Friday that the situation is catastrophic and, at that point, there was no infrastructure by which humanitarian aid could be distributed.

Right now, there are many people, organizations, and governmental agencies mobilized to provide immediate aid relief and rescue operations in Haiti.  However, there tends to be more readiness to donate supplies and money in the “immediate” time when things are very chaotic and before we know what the conditions are on the ground and have identified the long-term re-development needs as articulated by those most impacted.  The long-term vision is critical because, when the dust settles and the big international relief organizations have left, people’s lives will still be devastated, and the need to rebuild will still be there.

We are researching if and how we can develop an intentional political relationship with local women so we can help mobilize the INCITE! network to support just and sustainable development of a sovereign Haiti, both during the interim and the long term recovery process.

As many of us work to figure out appropriate strategies to support the people of Haiti, it’s important to note that the people most vulnerable–namely, women, LGBT folks, people with disabilities, incarcerated people, children, and elders–can experience a slower unfolding of specific crises that are consequences of the original disaster and the social conditions that preceded the disaster.

For example, women experience the most negative consequences of catastrophic events, particularly with regards to higher rates of injury and death, displacement, unemployment, increased incidents of HIV rates, sexual and domestic violence, increased poverty, and the disproportionate responsibility for caring for others.  This is especially true for women marginalized by race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, health, ability, age, housing, and legal status.  Additionally, in times of crises and environmental emergencies, poor and marginalized women, who are least responsible for the horrific conditions in which they live, are often blamed for their poverty and become subjected to regulatory population control policies through family planning, poverty reduction, and so-called environmental protection programs.

So, given what we have learned from Hurricane Katrina and the disasters of war, occupation, neoliberal economic dominance, and neglect that continue to plague and pathologize many of our families and friends internationally, we would like to use this time to organize an effective and accountable response during this interim phase of the crisis.  Right now, we are exploring if we can activate the following plan:

  • Identify a contact with at least one specific local women’s organization/network in Haiti
  • Help mobilize the INCITE! network to organize a response and provide specific resources identified by women in Haiti
  • Work through INCITE! to sustain a productive and intentional transnational relationship with women in Haiti – this would be our long term solidarity work

We are talking with Zeina and Erika from Global Fund for Women to learn the landscape of women’s organizing in Haiti, how their local partners are doing at this point, and if/how we can work with local women directly.  We appreciate any feedback and ideas about this process, please get in touch at info@whji.org and incite.natl@gmail.com.

In the meantime, we urge INCITE! members/chapters/affiliates and the broader social justice community to:

EDUCATE YOURSELF & YOUR COMMUNITY!

  • Research Haiti’s amazing history of resistance, resiliency, and self-determination
  • Educate your community on the colonial history of deliberate impoverishment, control, debt, dependency, and neglect in Haiti
  • Educate yourself and your community on the intersections of gender, violence, and disaster vulnerabilities
  • Examine how the crises of disasters and gender-based violence are connected to the social, political, environmental, and economic issues you may work on
  • Analyze how the violence of disasters and colonial legacies (and realities) undermines the sovereignty and self-determination of a people
  • Identify patterns of how women, LGBT people, and people with disabilities are particularly impacted by disaster and conflict situations in, for example, Haiti, New Orleans, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Congo, the U.S./Mexico border, Native reservations

ORGANIZE!

  • Convene organizing teach-ins on the history of Haiti, its historical connection to New Orleans, and the role the U.S. government has played in the underdevelopment of Haiti through invasion, occupation, and neoliberal supported policies
  • Reach out to Haitian immigrants and Haitian-Americans in your community who may need support
  • Support progressive democratic and human rights movements in Haiti and campaigns calling for debt cancelation and those to eliminate foreign aid restrictions that privilege US based contractors over Haitian labor
  • Support the capacity of the Haitian government to rebuild its institutional and physical infrastructure and provide sustainable and equitable public and relief services to its own people free of neoliberal mandates
  • Ensure that gendered perspectives are mainstreamed within humanitarian programs and long term recovery, both in recognizing the leadership roles and facilities of women and other marginalized communities to guide these processes and the specific vulnerabilities of marginalized communities in times of crisis and national emergency
  • Mobilize women of color & queer/LGBT people of color in your community to develop and share organizing strategies to address crises like these both abroad and here at home
  • Share organizing models and build skills to strengthen our grassroots organizing
  • Connect online using:

o    the INCITE! facebook page: http://tiny.cc/incitefacebook
o    Stay tuned for other online tools…

DONATE!

Other groups to donate include:…

In Solidarity,

Women’s Health & Justice Initiative (WHJI), New Orleans
INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence

List of GFW Partners:

  • Fondation TOYA [TOYA Foundation], Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Fondation TOYA works to raise the standard of living throughout the slum area of Cité Soleil through the empowerment of young women in the community. Members promote women’s entrepreneurship through  a micro-finance structure that facilitates access to credit for women in the informal sector. By focusing  on vulnerable young women who are unemployed and/or are heads of households,  Toya is ensuring that more Haitian women will be financially independent, have access to healthcare and in control of their destinies.
  • Association Femmes Soleil D’Haiti [Sun Women’s Association of Haiti], Cap-Haitien, Haiti: AFASDA was formed after the three-year coup in Haiti (1991-1994), because as the group states, “after the bloody coup…it was repression. No one could move. It was said that women couldn’t remain with their arms crossed. It was necessary to do something. We began with a little seed of reflection and that’s what became AFASDA.” AFASDA advances women’s rights by organizing campaigns for potable water and creating educational opportunities for street children and rural women.
  • Organisation Femmes Victimes de Solino [Organization of Women Victims of Solino] (OFVS), Solino: OFVS works with women of the Solino slum who have been victims of violence. Because of social unrest and the proliferation of armed gangs, many women are unable to earn a living.. The majority of the group’s members are single mothers, 90 percent of them affected by violence.. OFSV notes, “The majority of the women have lost all their business activities, and were forced to pay a ransom daily to the heads of gangs that took over the area so as not to be attacked again…the women have been victims of theft, burglary, and rape.”  OFVS provides counseling to violence survivors, financial aid to restart businesses, and legal aid to seek redress for the crimes committed against them.
  • Kodinasyon Solidarité Fanm Djanm Sid, KOSOFADS [Dynamic Women of the South Solidarity Network] (KOSOFADS) Les Cayes, Haiti: KOSOFADS promotes women’s economic independence, access to health care, and the eradication of domestic violence. The association brings poor women together in workshops, during which participants are encouraged to discuss women’s rights violations and devise strategies to resolve the abuse.  KOSOFADS also produces radio and television programs that focus on women’s rights issues.
  • Mouvman Peyizan Papay/Fanm MPP (Women of the Peasant Movement of Papay), Pètion Ville, Haiti: Emerging from the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP), Fanm MPP was created in 1980 to  “concentrate on understanding women’s unique development needs, advancing women’s rights and empowering women to participate in their own development.” One of the group’s current projects is  “Engaging Women in Holistic Health and Environmental Protection” project where women are taught to install family and community composting latrines, family cisterns so families for clean water for household use as well as plant fruits and vegetables for their families.

Women’s Health & Justice Initiative
P.O. BOX 51325
New Orleans, LA 70151
504-524-8626
info@whji.org
http://whji.org/

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
PO Box 226
Redmond, WA 98073
incite.natl@gmail.com
http://incite-national.org/

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